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Polar ecosystem dynamics: recovery of communities from organic enrichment in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica
Kim, S.; Hammerstom, K.; Conlan, K.; Thurber, A.R. (2010). Polar ecosystem dynamics: recovery of communities from organic enrichment in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Integrative and Comparative Biology 50(6): 1031-1040.
In: Integrative and Comparative Biology. Oxford University Press: McLean, VA. ISSN 1540-7063; e-ISSN 1557-7023, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Kim, S.
  • Hammerstom, K.
  • Conlan, K.
  • Thurber, A.R.

    Community structure and diversity are influenced by patterns of disturbance and input of food. In Antarctica, the marine ecosystem undergoes highly seasonal changes in availability of light and in primary production. Near research stations, organic input from human activities can disturb the regular productivity regime with a consistent input of sewage. McMurdo Sound has both high-productivity and low-productivity habitats, thereby providing an ideal test bed for community recovery dynamics under polar conditions. We used experimental manipulations of the subtidal communities to test the hypotheses that (1) benthic communities respond differently to disturbance from organic enrichment versus burial and (2) community response also varies in areas with different natural patterns of food supply. Both in low- and high-food habitats, the strongest community response was to organic enrichment and resulted in dominance of typical organic-enrichment specialists. In habitats with highly seasonal productivity, community response was predictable and recovery was rapid. In habitats with low productivity, community variability was high and caging treatments suggested that inconsistencies were due to patchy impacts by scavengers. In areas normally subject to regular organic enrichment, either from primary production or from further up the food web (defecation by marine mammals), recovery of benthic communities takes only years even in a polar system. However, a low-productivity regime is as common in near shore habitats around the continent; under these conditions, recovery of benthic communities from disturbance is likely to be much slower and follow a variable ecological trajectory.

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